India and Pakistan Take Battle Over Spy Suspect to UN Court

People walk toward the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the Netherlands. (AP Photo/Mike Corder)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – India and Pakistan return to the International Court of Justice on Monday in their fight over the rights of a man Pakistan convicted and sentenced to death on espionage charges.

A Pakistani military court convicted Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav (also spelled Yadav) and sentenced him to death in April 2017 after finding him guilty of “espionage and sabotage activities against Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s government claims Jadhav was acting on behalf of the Indian government to incite terrorist activity in Balochistan, a Pakistani province which shares a border with Afghanistan and Iran. A number of separatist groups operate in the region.

Pakistani officials have released several videos of Jadhav which they say are confessions of his espionage activities. Jadhav’s family, however, say Jadhav denies the charges.

For its part, the Indian government says Jadhav was not acting for India and the videos were produced under duress.

“The video has this individual making statements which have no basis in fact. That the individual claims to make the statements of his own free will not only challenges credulity but clearly indicates tutoring,” the Indian government said in a statement after the first video was released in 2016.

Jadhav had previous served in the Indian Navy but, according to the Indian government, retired early and was working in the private sector.

The issues for the International Court of Justice, however, stem from Jadhav’s access to legal and consular advice.

India claims it was not informed of Jadhav’s detention in a timely manner and that Pakistan is preventing right of consular access to Jadhav, in violation of the Vienna Convention. Both parties signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which guarantees the access of foreign nationals to contact with their embassy if they are arrested.

According to Indian officials, they learned of Jadhav’s death sentence in a press release from the Pakistani government. 

The two nations also dispute the circumstances of Jadhav’s arrest. Pakistan claims authorities arrested Jadhav in Balochistan, near the Afghanistan border. Officials say he entered Iran, obtained a fake passport and crossed the border into Pakistan, where he aimed to destabilize the Pakistani government by supporting separatist groups operating in the region.

India meanwhile says Jadhav was kidnapped by the Pakistani government in the Iranian town of Sarbaz, near the Pakistan border, and subsequently brought to Pakistan. According to India, Jadhav had set up a shipping company, which was operating in the area.

A secret military court in Pakistan tried Jadhav. Such courts have garnered criticism over the years for lacking fairness and impartiality. The International Commission of Jurists published a report in 2016 finding “Pakistani military courts are not independent and the proceedings before them fall far short of national and international fair trial standards.”

The Pakistani military court convicted Jadhav under the Official Secrets Act, finding he had passed on “information which is calculated to be or might be or is intended to be, directly or indirectly, useful to an enemy.”

India brought the matter to the Hague-based International Court of Justice in 2018 after efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically failed. The Indian government successfully lobbied the court for a stay of execution while the matter is pending, with then-India Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi telling reporters “The stand of the Indian government has been vindicated.”

Pakistan of course disagreed, with its attorney general issuing a statement saying that “as far as Pakistan is concerned, the court’s decision today has not changed the status of Commander Jadhav’s case in any manner.”

 Both nations have submitted their pleas to the court, which is part of the judicial arm of the United Nations. Trial is set for Feb. 18 through Feb. 21.

India and Pakistan have had strained relations for decades, the Partition of India in 1947 resulted in the creation of Pakistan. A number of hotspots still exist along the border including in Kashmir, which has seen several instances of armed conflict since 1947.

In 2008, a series of coordinated shooting and bombing attacks took place in Mumbai, which India claims was committed by a Pakistani-based terrorist group.

Pakistan executed an Indian national for spying in 1999, and in 2013 an Indian national who was convicted of spying was beaten to death in a Pakistani prison.

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